The Exceedingly Strange Case of Zeattle Zigi

For an announcement that every blogger across the fruited plain assured us was due momentarily, the Sigi-to-Seattle (or maybe Zigi to Zeattle) deal is now apparently not such a slam dunk.

Due to the just-concluded Presidential election, we've heard a whole lot about "transparency" recently. Of course, like all politicians, our President-elect is finding that being wide-open dead-honest about every last thing is a lot easier to talk about then it is to actually do.

So too with MLS. We've heard several times over the past year or so that MLS is"quite proud" of the efforts they've made to be "more transparent" in their processes and rules procedures.

Except, of course, when there's, you know, something you'd like an answer to.

Which brings us to the increasingly strange saga of "Sigi the Win the Cup and then Find Yourself Looking for a Job Bear".

There are many bits and pieces scattered about the landscape, and huge holes in the narrative that nobody is willing to fill in at the moment, and that's before you get to the fact that the entire affair is now in the hands of the Commissioner.

But as carefully as everyone is tip-toeing around the issues here - except of course for Seattle FC: they're saying absolutely nothing - it's possible to get a vague sketch of what's likley going on here.

Sigi Schmid and the Crew talked about a new deal off and on over the summer. Schmid was a little annoyed about HSG's blanket policy of refusing to talk to a coach's agent, feeling that he had some other things he was trying to focus on - like, or example, winning MLS Cup - and didn't like having to spend a lot of time on his contract.

Nonetheless, he did establish some financial parameters. Some sources are claiming that he demanded to be the highest paid coach in the league, a not unreasonable request based on his record, but no one in a position to know has said that in public.

In any case, the Crew made him an offer in September, which he rejected.

In October, they made him another offer which, according to Clark Hunt and Crew President Mark McCullers, was in the ballpark of what Sigi had originally asked for. Or at least that's how we are expected to interpret "an offer within the financial parameters Sigi established".

Sigi claims that by the time the last offer came along, he had decided to test the waters elsewhere.

This may be - likely is - the sticking point:

Did Sigi suddenly decide, on his own, to stop talking with Columbus about a contract OR did he stop talking to Columbus because someone from Seattle put a bug in his ear?

In any case, everyone agrees that the Crew's final offer was still on the table when the season finally ended.

And then some strange things happened.

First, Seattle made their expansion draft picks and, as virtually every observer noted, it had Sigi's fingerprints all over it.

Next, Seattle filed a Discovery claim on one of the young Cuban defectors, a kid that Sigi had worked out in Columbus but who, as far as anyone knows, Seattle had never laid eyes on.

Somewhere in through all of this, McCullers believes he has evidence - we know not what - that Sigi a) was contacted by Seattle, informally, regarding their Head Coaching position and b) passed along proprietary information, including work product that legally belongs to the Columbus Crew.

It's important to understand that Mark McCullers is not a Mo Johnston style crybaby. He's a serious guy who takes his lumps when he has to, never gripes about it and - above all - follows the rules to the letter.

So when Columbus filed what's being called a "tampering" complaint with the league, we have to asume that it wasn't just a fit of pique, a little temper tantrum of some kind aimed at making Sigi's life difficult.

At any rate, Sigi was apparently in the middle of his interview/tour/get acquainted session in Seattle when the league notified Seattle of the Crew's formal complaint.

The interview process was immediately terminated, and Sigi was hustled back to the airport and put on a plane for LA.

Schmid now claims that, until that time, he was still entertaining the Crew's final offer, but when the complaint was filed he decided to end all negotiations with McCullers.

In an interview with the Seattle PI yesterday, Sounders technical director (and huge Sigi fan) Chris Henderson told a reporter that a final decision on hiring a head coach is still "weeks away", a very odd thing to say considering that half the soccer writers in America have been using words like "imminent" to describe Sigi's hiring.

Which brings us to the league.

It was widely reported, although I can find no original source, that MLS had promised to pass down a ruling on the Columbus complaint yesterday. Obviously they did not, and requests for comment from the Commissioner's office are being met with silence.

One might take this to mean that The Don is attempting to work out some kind of deal/compromise/settlement that satisfies both parties without having to make a hard, embarrassing ruling against either a) the league's newest team or b) the league's newly crowned champion.

Sigi himself used the word "settlement" yesterday in an interview with a Seattle reporter, and compared it to paying a "$25,000 fine" and "moving on". What makes it interesting is that Sigi's comment seems to be a tacit admission that there really is some substance to the complaint.

Furthermore, the "$25,000" figure is - coincidentally? - exactly the amount RSL was fined when Dallas accused Jason Kreis of calling up their backup keeper, Jeff Cassar, and offering him a coaching job.

Conversely, it's likely that McCullers sees this as much closer to the Osorio deal last year, when the Fire considered filing a tampering charge against RBNY but dropped it - in part - in return for first and third round draft picks and cash.

The net result would be likely to fall in the middle someplace. I'm certain, for example, that the return of Brad Evans would be a compromise the Crew would be happy with.

So much of this is pure conjecture, and so much is still - and may always be - a mystery, that it's hard to say when it's going to be resolved.

Of course, this is virgin territory for everyone involved: the only remotely comparable situation - last year's Juan Carlos Osorio move from the Fire to NYRB - ended up being a trade, and thus Chicago, having been duly compensated, couldn't complain about JCO using knowledge - essentially work product Chicago had paid for - in his new job.

But this is different, and it's complicated by the fact that the Crew not only didn't fire the guy but they made him a very substantial offer, so that the area where "non-compete" issues generally fall down - the fact that you fired the guy and he thus has a right to make a living someplace else - wouldn't seem to apply here.

One thing is clear: the ball is completely in the leagues court.

Garber's role is complicated by the fact that he's not just making a ruling; in a very real sense he's establishing a league precedent, something which could have serious ramifications down the road.

So what's it going to be, Mr. Commissioner?